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“I’m here to watch history”: Texans marvel at Paxton impeachment spectacle


“I’m here to watch history”: Texans marvel at Paxton impeachment spectacle

May 27, 2023 | 9:01 pm ET
By William Melhado Lucy Tompkins
“I’m here to watch history”: Texans at Capitol agree Paxton impeachment was momentous but disagree on outcome
Texans sit in the gallery above the Texas House floor as lawmakers debate whether to impeach Ken Paxton. Saturday was the first time in Texas history that the House impeached and suspended an attorney general. (Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

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Kathie Glass traveled from Houston to the Texas Capitol on Saturday, eager to catch a landmark moment in Texas history firsthand. She plans to tell her granddaughter, Katie, about witnessing the first-ever impeachment of a state attorney general.

But she’s not happy with the outcome.

“It is an attempt to overthrow an election. I look at it as an attempted coup to disenfranchise voters like me who just four months ago voted for Ken Paxton knowing all these allegations were out there,” Glass said outside the House gallery immediately after the vote.

When Glass, who ran for governor as a libertarian in 2014, watched the House meet Friday, she thought impeachment was imminent. But throughout Saturday’s proceedings, she became hopeful Paxton would emerge unscathed after listening to state Reps. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, and Harold Dutton, D-Houston, cast doubt on the impeachment’s process.

Despite the vocal pushback, members voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton and suspend him from office until the Senate trial over accusations of bribery, dereliction of duty, disregard of official duty and obstruction of justice.

“It was a civic lesson, but I was very displeased with the evidence,” Glass said.

When the vote board on the back wall of the House chamber that shows how members vote lit up with 121 green lights — well above the number needed to suspend the attorney general and force a trial — several people sitting in the gallery above turned to one another in surprise before slowly emptying out of the House. Many had waited in line for more than an hour to witness the proceedings.

Out in the hallway, Bruce Kravitz, a longtime Austin resident dressed in all blue to show his Democratic allegiance, was elated with the result of the vote.

“I’m very concerned about the integrity of our government officials, and it seems to me for a long time that Attorney General Paxton has been doing a lot of things that are not in keeping with what I expect an elected official to do,” he said. “So I wanted to come in person and see how our legislators would deal with this issue, and I was pleasantly surprised.”

Sixty Republicans, including House Speaker Dade Phelan, voted in favor of impeachment.

Paxton is accused of repeatedly abusing the powers of his office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul. Investigators allege Paxton diverted staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misused official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliated against employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

At one point Saturday, investigating committee Vice Chair Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said a “distraught” Paxton disclosed an extramarital affair to members of his staff. She also said Paxton got Paul to hire the woman he allegedly had an affair with.

Kravitz said he wasn’t sure what to expect in an impeachment vote given how strong an influence Republicans have in Texas politics.

“Obviously, Ken Paxton must have really upset somebody,” he said. “So the adventure continues for the trial of the year in the Senate.”

The overwhelming opposition to Paxton came as a surprise to some who came hoping to see Paxton impeached. Some said this result was a long time in the making.

“The various ways that he has abused his power, they go into so many different spheres,” said Krista Laine, visibly relieved the day’s action was resolved. “It ranges from supporting his mistress through his office to the developer that he was constantly breaking the law on behalf of, issuing false subpoenas,” she said, laughing at the laundry list of allegations.

Laine said she came in part to see how her representative, Rep. Caroline Harris, R-Round Rock, would vote. She said she wasn’t surprised Harris voted against impeaching Paxton, but she didn’t think so few Republicans would vote in favor of the attorney general.

After the vote, the Capitol remained calm. No protests erupted outside, and the many tourists and visitors who filled the halls on a Saturday afternoon, taking selfies and wandering around, seemed to have no idea of the historic vote that had just taken place.

Two women walked out of the Capitol into the sunshine, one of them expressing surprise that the building remained open after 5 p.m. on a Saturday.

“They’re voting on something today,” the other one said, but she couldn’t remember what.

Earlier in the morning, before the impeachment hearings began, Texans lined up outside the House chamber for the rare chance to watch impeachment proceedings against a state attorney general — an unprecedented event that came at the tail end of the regular legislative session.

“I’m here to watch history in the making and stand for our Attorney General Ken Paxton,” said Marcia Watson, 60, with Citizens Defending Freedom, a political nonprofit.

Watson said none of the information revealed by the House General Investigating Committee, which has been secretly investigating Paxton since March, is new to voters and that voters reelected him despite the accusations and indictments against him.

She called the impeachment proceedings “political theater” and a “distraction” from the other bills that have yet to be voted on before the session ends in two days.

After the vote, Watson said she wasn’t surprised at the outcome but that it identified the lawmakers who had voted against their party.

“We’re separating the wheat from the chaff,” she said. “Now we know the 23 people we want to work hard to keep in office and the others we want to work hard to replace in the primary.”

She said she expects the Senate, which will now hold a trial over the charges, to exonerate Paxton. Then she walked back into the House chamber to watch as it returned to debating bills relating to the state budget and other matters it must complete before the end of the session Monday.

“It could be a late night,” she said.

Lucy Tompkins works for the Tribune as a housing and homelessness reporting fellow through The New York Times’ Headway Initiative, which is funded through grants from the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors serving as a fiscal sponsor.

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